Monday, May 19, 2014

In the run up to the UK elections

This week is election week in the UK. As a mixed nationality family, it took us a while and a few false starts to figure out who was allowed to vote in which election. This is what we have established:

My husband and sons, who are Swedish (and therefore EU) nationals are entitled to vote in local elections and European elections. So they have a say in who their local councillors are and who their MEPs are. But they may not vote in a national election. So they have no say in who their MP is.

I, as a South African (and therefore a Commonwealth) national, am allowed to vote in all elections: local, national and European (even though I'm a non-European).

It's kind of weird, really, because my husband and sons are allowed to live and work in the UK (or anywhere else in the EU) without having to apply for permits or visas or any of that malarkey. I am only allowed to live in the UK (or anywhere else in the EU) if I have a residence permit. But I get more of a voice than they do. Go figure.

If you've been wondering who in your family may and may not vote, I hope our experience is of some help to you. It was only after my husband had voted in at least one national election that we found out he wasn't entitled to do so. How his name was included on the electoral roll is anybody's guess. Our story was even included in our local newspaper a few years back, because of the mix ups, contradictions and misinformation we had experienced in our quest for a definitive position on our voting rights.

During our 15 years in the UK, we have encountered a few instances of racism* (see below). But these have been the exception. However, our subjective experience is that, in the run up to this election, there is more of it about. There seems to be a great deal of anger just below the surface, and we have found ourselves on the receiving end of more of it than usual. I find it unsettling, as I'm sure you understand.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the election, and the aftermath. Will it settle back down to life as usual, or will the tensions continue? For the first time in fifteen years, I'm actually nervous about going to the polls alone, in case of unpleasantness.

In spite of my enthusiastic involvement as a student, I don't think I was designed for politics. The anger and unpleasantness unsettles me.

*People outside the UK might be surprised to learn that the term 'racism' is used in these instances. I was too, the first time I encountered it, so just to provide some context: A teenaged neighbour had physically and verbally abused me on my own doorstep, and I had dialled the police to find out what I should do about it, if anything. I was asked if I wanted to lay a charge of racist abuse against her, and I was totally non-plussed. "But we're the same race!" I protested. But the police officer explained that that didn't matter. The term 'racism' in the UK is used more broadly than appears to be the case elsewhere, and can apply to abuse based on cultural or heritage differences, too.

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